Friday, August 31, 2007

®evolution Tea

I'm Molly, wife of Alex and occasional drinker of cheap tea. The rest of the time I drink Diet Dr Pepper or sugar-free calorie-free "fruit-flavored drink" from Wal-Mart. And water. And sometimes coffee with Splenda. I'm not a tea person. I don't know about tea, except what I've learned by accident when Alex talks at me. Everything he posts on this blog, I've heard in person plus a lot of "um, ah, tea is great, I want to go to Japan." Not that I mind... I just don't particularly care about tea.

But we thought it would be fun to do a dual-review of some teas, in order to juxtapose Alex's learned mind and refined palate against my ignorance and affinity for overly-sweetened carbonated beverages. This company called ®evolution sent him some samples. My first impression is that the packaging is nice. I'm a commercial artist and graphic designer, so I like good package design. The look is clean and simple, very modern, but not stuffy. The logo is lame, though. I love the little metal tin that the green tea came in. Very cute. But should tea be cute? We tasted four teas, and I tried very hard to be fair and balanced in my writing, totally unlike Fox news.

Tea #1 Peach Dragon Eye Something Bullshit
(Green Oolong, Safflower, Marigold Flowers, Ginger, Peach and Apricot Flavors)

Dry leaves smell like peach, chocolate and orange. Reminiscent of those chocolate oranges at Christmas that you whack on the counter. Alex brews the tea. I can smell the "peach flavors" from about 5 feet away. I love bottled peach-flavored iced tea, but I'm not so sure about hot tea. Seems like I might as well drink TROT or something. (This one, I drink a whole mug-full, but all the teas to follow we just did a small one or two ounce tasting each).

Aroma still smells of chocolate, which is nice. I was afraid that would have disappeared under the overpowering peach, but it didn't. I can smell apricot if I think about it. Color is dark golden-brown; pretty. Alex says it's the same quality as Mighty Leaf, but for 2/3 the price. He poured his down the drain after one sip, then wanted to try mine. He's doing the slurp-smack-smack thing that drives me up the wall.

I admit, I usually drink my tea with Splenda. Actually, not even Splenda. I use Altern, the Wal-Mart store brand. The first sip tastes remarkably like warm water. Quite a let down after all the strong scents. There is a tiny taste of something that might be peach. But mostly it's just warm water. After 4 sips, I give up and add 1/2 packet of sweetener. mmm... Altern. Still no flavor worth mentioning. There is a tiny hint of peach, and a tiny bit of generic "tea" flavor. Overall, this isn't even as good as Celestial Seasonings, which is a pity, cause the packaging is way better than a bear in pajamas.

Tea #2 Organic Scottish Breakfast Tea
(some leaves)

Dry tea has a very light scent. I can smell the metal of the tin more than the tea itself. Brewed in the pot, the color is beautiful, almost ruby. Once poured into a cup, however, it looks almost the same as the other tea, but with a slight rust tone.

Alex uses these little ceramic tasting cups that burn my fingers.

Aroma is unremarkable. Smells like tea. Not too strong, not too weak. My nose cells aren't as trained as Alex's. Tastes like tea. Slightly bitter. Pretty generic. I think I generally don't like any of the "breakfast" teas. What the hell IS a breakfast tea? This one is not as strong as some breakfast teas, which is surprising, given that it's called "Scottish". I expected this tea to kick my ass.

Tea #3 English Breakfast Tea
(more leaves)

Dry tea smells like tea, but again, fairly weak. Color in pot is nice dark brown/garnet. In the cup, though, it's totally lame. Brown-gold-orange-red AGAIN. I want hot pink or teal or something. Someone should make blue tea. I would buy it.
Aroma is nice, although I can tell it's going to be bitter. It smells like "tea." Surprisingly, this "breakfast" tea isn't bitter! Unfortunately, though, that means it's just flavorless. It tastes like warm water that sat next to tea leaves on the bus.

Tea #4 Organic Green Tea
(organic leaves, I'm sure)
As mentioned, the tin is highly attractive. Reminds me of cigarette cases. One of the bags broke open, spilling tea everywhere. Dry tea smells like celery. CELERY. Color in the pot is pale topaz. The leaves expanded a lot, which Alex said left little room for water. In the cup, the color is almost Naples yellow.

Alex makes a groaning noise. He's not excited about this tea. Aroma is pleasant but unremarkable. Celery scent is gone. BITTER. Like eating grass. I don't like grass. I also don't like green tea.

In case you were curious, the actual event of this review included profuse cursing, some your mom jokes and Alex and I saying that we hate each other about 15 times, which may or may not be our way of saying "I love you". Our house is an interesting place, with thundering cat feet, occasional arguments, plenty of yelling (for business or pleasure) and daily naptime.

That's my wife...

As she explained Revolution sent me some free tea after contacting me and several of my fellow tea bloggers. I have fairly strong feelings about tea bags, so I enlisted Molly's help to try to offer a balanced review. It turns out while I am not wild about any thing we sampled. I like it more than she does.

Tea #1 Dragon Eye Oolong

This is the only flavored tea I asked for, and I only asked for it because a customer at work was quite insistent about getting some of this. The dry leaves look like and have the chocolate aroma of a Wuyi oolong. My problem with this tea is that it smelled exactly like TROT's Yerba Mate Latte, something I do not care for at all, so there were some unpleasant associations with it.

The peach wasn't particularly strong, but the chocolate came through. I wouldn't buy this tea, but I can see how someone with different tastes might be interested.

Tea # 2 Scottish Breakfast

This time I weighed the tea bag out of curiosity; its 2.2 grams, almost a gram less than I prefer. The dry leaves are rather dusty. The ingredients are Assam, Keemun, and Nilgiri Dunsandle Estate. Points for including the estate in the ingredients, but unfortunately I've had Nilgiri Dunsandle, and I am not too excited about seeing it again.

The liquor is beautiful, ruby-ish; aroma smells like a breakfast blend. The taste is smooth, no astringency and no depth. I can't make out the keemun. This one isn't doing it for my either, but I've had worse.

Tea # 3 English Breakfast.

The leaves have a better appearance, a mixture of Assam and Ceylon, fairly standard. The liquor is more brown this time. The aroma is a bit P.G. Tipsish. I like the Scottish Breakfast better; this has even less depth.

Tea # 4 Organic Green Tea.

The dry leaves on this one look the most promising. Its a blend of Chun Mee, Sencha, and Idulgashina, what I think is a green tea from Sri Lanka.. Whatever it is, yields a yellow brew. The tea bag becomes rather bloated, and I don't think there's enough room for proper circulation. The taste is almost....but not quite. It lacks character, and it is indeed bitter.

Over all I think I see what Revolution is trying to do, and I respect it. It is definitely better quality tea then you'll get in most store-bought tea bags. The price is okay, $5 for 16 bags, about .32 a serving. I guess what I am trying to say, is that those who have not yet made the transition to loose leaf tea might enjoy this tea, but I didn't.

Sorry, Revolution, we tried to be fair, but this tea is not for us.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Inko's White Tea Energy

A brand new product that came into the store today, an energy drink from Inko's that is a 'Jitter-Free Adult Energy Drink." It is a 'lightly' sweetened blend of black and white teas with lemon juice, ginger, ginseng and a few other things. Curious, I opened a can and gave it a whirl.

The lemon juice seems to be the dominant flavor. If I had to describe this tea in a word, it would be 'bleh.' I did not get an energy boost, but I did get an upset stomach for my troubles. I was not fond of this beverage, and I think the Steaz energy drink is better. I think just about any other source of caffeine is better.

If you see it and your are curious, you might like it, so give it a try, but it wasn't for me.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bai Hao Yinzhen

Its another cloudy day, I like clouds. We re-arranged some of the rooms in our house, and now I have a place to make tea in the back that provides me with a view of our back yard. The back yard is one of my favorite things living here. It helps me forget that the Interstate is 100 yards away, and some of the busiest shopping areas in West Ft. Worth are less than a mile in either direction. Sitting back here in the mornings on my days off, drinking tea, forgetting I live in Texas, has become a highlight of my day.

Since receiving my shipment of wuyi oolongs from Tea Spring, I've been itching to write about them; wuyi cha and I seem to be made for each other. But I was distracted by Mary's blog, so I find myself drinking some bai hao yinzhen from Rishi instead.

I'm sure by now most people are familiar with white tea, or bai cha (白茶), but for those of you who don't, I happen to have a whole folder of POS material from Rishi, so I'll fill you in.

Production of 'authentic' white tea is limited to Northern Fujian, in Fuding, Zhenghe, and Jianyang Counties. The leaves are picked from specific bush varietals including Da Bai (大白) and Da Hao (大毫). The leaves are picked, withered, and dried, and that's about it, making it the least processed of all teas.

Brief History of White Tea:

  • 618 - 907: Compressed cake tea is listed in ancient Tang Dynasty tribute tax records as white tea.
  • 960 - 1279: Song Dynasty records list a type of imperial tribute tea as white tea.
  • 1796: The unique withering process of loose leaf white tea is developed.
  • 1889 - 1891: Original production and and export of bai hao yinzhen.
  • 1922: Original Production and export of bai mu dan.

Tea: Bai Hao Yinzhen (白毫银针), White Hair Silver Needle
Origin: Fuding, Fujian, China
Year: ?, Spring (I wish they'd post harvest dates).
Vendor: Rishi-Tea
Price: $66/lb, $9.99/Retail Tin (C.M. price)

Rishi's Silver Needle is hand harvested from Fuding Da Hao bushes, and like other silver needles, uses only first flush buds picked for just a few weeks in spring. This is also the first certified Organic white tea imported to the US.

I've had numerous white teas from Fujian, Yunnan, and in various places in India, but in my opinion, nothing can compare to Fujian silver needle. My palate is not refined enough to pick out individual nuances of fruit or what not. It has an extraordinary cooling effect with a wonderful mouth feel. More often than not, I start to sip this tea and end up gulping the whole cup. Its very refreshing.

Notice the fine white hairs:
You want to be sure to use enough leaves, about 3.5 - 4 grams or a heaping tablespoon for 8 oz.. I use water between 180 - 185 F. I start off with 5 minutes and add a minute and a half for each subsequent brew. White tea tends to be very forgiving, so even if you fudge the brewing parameters you will get an enjoyable cup regardless. Indeed there is a wide variety of opinions on things such as steeping time, so experiment and find what works for you.

In terms of white tea, I don't think it gets better than this. I give it a 5 out of 5.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Yoshikawa Toru... my hero. I have been looking for this samashi. I was placing an order with Artistic Nippon, and I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask if it was something he could get his hands on. It turns out that not only can he get one, but that it is being made specifically for me. Oh I'm sure that he'd order one for any customer that asked, but the point is that the one I get will be made because I asked for it.

In a couple of weeks, expect me to go all ga-ga in a review over this thing.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Lan Gui Ren

Lan Gui Ren is an interesting tea, though not something I keep around. I liked this tea quite a bit the first few times I had it, but over time it became something that I'd just as soon not drink. So why am I drinking it? Good question.

This tea was first presented to me a year ago as "Kings Jewel," back when I knew a lot less about tea. Curtis, our rep from TROT, came in with an offer of specialty teas that would be exclusive to our stores, and he did a tasting on some of them. One of which was his "Kings Jewel," to be sold at an exorbitant $192/lb.

Time goes by, and I learn a lot more about tea. Then I had an issue with the puerh they were selling us. I had questions about its origins, how long had it been aged, and they didn't want to disclose any information about it. Some of you may remember me popping around different forums asking questions about this, because I was trying to keep an open mind. At the same time I find out that Kings Jewel is really Lan Gui Ren, and it sells between $30-40/lb. That was enough for me, and I kindly tell our rep that we will no longer carry this line. End of story.

It turns out it wasn't. Long story not-so-long, Roy Fong sourced the teas for TROT in the first place, and he will be coming out in October to our stores. In light of this, I chose to do some more homework to be sure that I had made the right decision, so when I placed an order with Tea Spring, I asked for a sample, so I could compare the quality.

Tea: Lan Gui Ren (Lady Orchid)
Origin: Yunnan, China
Year: ?
Vendor: Tea Spring
Price: $6/50 g.

Lan Gui Ren is an oolong that is tightly compressed with licorice grass and American ginseng, forming little pellets. The first two infusions are the best. The most remarkable thing about this tea is how it lingers on the tongue. Unfortunately once the licorice and ginseng is gone, and you get to the leaves, there isn't much flavor left. Whatever oolong they use is not very good. I don't see myself drinking this tea again, but I can see where others might enjoy it. I do think it is at least worth a try.

The Lan Gui Ren from Tea Spring performed just as well as what we carry in our store at five times the price. It doesn't look like I'll be changing my mind. Of course I'm just the little guy; my boss can still change it for me.
For more on this tea, Mary wrote a great post some time ago.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Coffee Flavored Tea?

On Teachat today there was a bit of an ongoing discussion about the validity or usefulness of coffee flavored tea. There was a general consensus that one or the other was great, or as Mary put it, "Having one or the other is vastly preferable to trying for a pale imitation of both." But there was one person who passionately argued for it.

"There are so many varieties of tea," she said (I think its a she), "and someone to drink each of them." Good point.

So I got to thinking how would they make such a thing. No company would probably make a serious attempt at producing a high quality coffee flavored tea, just some BOP and coffee extract or flavoring tossed in a teabag.

As much as I dislike flavored teas, I have always had more respect for ones that were made with "real" ingredients. I don't want to drink a blueberry tea, but if I did, I'd prefer one that was using dried blueberries as opposed to an extract. So I decided to take that approach, which required a quick jaunt to the store.

I don't know much about coffee other than drinking it, so from this point it was all guess work. We were out of my preferred choice, Colombian, so I went with Organic Guatemalan instead. For some reason I didn't want to grind it (which it turns out might have yielded better results), so I decided it to chop the whole beans with a knife.

Now there was the question of tea. Should I use a malty Assam or Dian Hong or something else. This person seems fond of oolong, and I just got some shui xian that I thought would compliment the coffee. Maybe it didn't have to be a "pale version of both." The shui xian had a thinner body with a strong chocolate presence. Chocolate and coffee, that should go together.

It didn't. The first attempt was a failure. I used 2.5 g of chopped coffee beans and 3.5 g of shui xian for a 150 ml, and all I got was a slight finish of coffee. It seemed that maybe the coffee needed to be ground to release the flavors. I don't have a grinder, so I took some more beans and made do with a cutting board and a heavy jar.

I was only indulging a whim, so I was unwilling to waste any more shui xian on it, so I used a qi lan instead, something I could easily replace. Unfortunately, still no luck. It seems that Mary was right. For it to taste like coffee, it will inevitably over power the tea, and vice versa.

Oh well, I am only out about a dollar's worth of tea and coffee. A small price to pay for a reminder to be open-minded.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Wuyistar Wuyi Yan Cha

Tea: Wuyi Rock Tea
Origin: Wuyi Shan, Fujian, China
Year: 2006
Vendor: Tea Spring
Price: $9.90/150 g Beeng

This was part of my first order from Tea Spring, as well as my first compressed tea. Compressed teas are fun. I could get used to this, and I'm already planning to purchase my first puerh cakes, just as soon as I pay for my next tea purchase.

Description (Taken from Tea Spring):

Just like Pu-erh tea, the quality of Yan (Rock) teas from Wuyi Mountains get better with aging. For a time now, tea cakes compressed from great Wuyi teas such as Da Hong Pao have been made by some individuals for personal consumption and sometimes as gifts. Wuyistar Tea Industry is now making these tea cakes for commercial purposes. Their Wu Yi Yan Cha Bing is made using a combination of modern and traditional techniques, closely following the process used to create a once famous, Song Dynasty tribute tea cake called "Long Tuan Feng Bing" (Dragon Phoenix Tea Cake).

Brewing Parameters: 5.5 g/150 ml/200-205 F/rinse 5 s, 45 s, 1 min, 1.5 min, 2 min, drop gaiwan, make a mess, scream and curse as hot water is spilled all over hand.

Since this was my first experience with compressed tea, I figured breaking it up would be a challenge. I followed what steps I remembered from a video I think I originally saw on Bill's blog, and I think I did okay. A letter-opener does work well.

This was only my second Wuyi oolong, a qi lan from Rishi was my first, so I do not have a lot to compare this tea to, but the word that jumps out the most is chocolate. When placed in a heated gaiwan, there is a deep and rich cocoa aroma. This was a tad less complex but pleasant, with chocolate after notes and a sweet finish that lingers on the tongue. It held up to four infusions wonderfully without degrading, and I was looking forward to more when I dropped the gaiwan, thus ending the session.

I have a hunch that there are better Wuyi oolongs available, but the price on this one is very compelling. In a world where you often get what you pay for, I give this tea a 5/5. It was the best ten bucks I spent all year. I'm going to buy a few more and experiment with aging them further.

Tea Spring

As I said this was my first order from Tea Spring, and I was very pleased with the whole transaction. Their site is informative, and their audio links on proper pronunciation are great. I like the prices and their shipping rates. It took eight business days to arrive; not bad in my opinion, considering its coming all the way from China. They sent me two samples with my order, which is nice, and the product came in heat-sealed Mylar bags. I will be doing more business with them.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Ju Hua Bai Hao Yinzhen

Tea: Chrysanthemum Silver Needle
Origin: Fujian, China
Year: ?
Vendor: Rishi Tea
Price: $64/lb.

I do not enjoy flavored teas, and in the past I was not fond of chrysanthemum tea (ju hua cha). If you asked me, I would have told you that this tea was a waste of some perfectly good bai hao yinzhen. However, it was one of the new teas that came into our bulk dept., and I like Rishi, so I took some home.

This is a pretty tea. Throughout out the session I was taken in by the aesthetics of it, the colors, yellow blossoms of chrysanthemums, on white porcelain, punctuated with tender buds. A liquid-gold liquor. It felt like Spring.

Brewing parameters: 2 g/150 ml/185 F/4 min, 5.5 min, 7 min.

My over all impressions of this tea are a bit conflicted. I think it could have used a slightly smaller ratio of chrysanthemum to tea; the tea compliments the chrysanthemum perfectly, but gets over powered in the process, loosing the finer nuances of good bai hao yinzhen. On the other hand, it all tastes really good, naturally sweet with a...sort of 'spicy' mouth feel.

There was no discernible fluctuation in taste from the first three infusions. I imagine you could get a lot of mileage out of the tea, possibly six, perhaps even seven infusions before it paid out, although I tend to get bored with any tea before I get that far. This isn't any every day tea for me, but I'm tempted to give it a 5 out of 5.

Chuao Earl Grey Chocolate Bar
Sooner or later the extraordinary becomes ordinary when you are around it every day, thus it is easy to forget how good all the food at work is, or how fortunate we are to work in that kind of culinary environment. Oddly enough, it is the chocolate aisle that tends to remind me. I don't even like chocolate that much, but seeing shelf after shelf of gourmet chocolate bars in their shiny wrappers inevitably drives home the fact that my job is anything but ordinary.

Chuao, pronounced chew-WOW, is a Chocolatier in Southern California named after a cacao producing region in Central Venezuela. This is good chocolate (41% cacao), you don't taste tea per se, but the bergamot clearly stands out, giving the chocolate a pleasant citrus, umm, citrusy? citrusness? I would like to see a version of this bar using darker chocolate, something in 60-70%. That would be good, too.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Pure Green Tea: Adagio vs Ito En

Today at work I did a taste test between two different bottled green teas, Adagio's Anteadote Pure Green Tea and Ito En's Teas' Tea Pure Green, using the resources of my job to pool together a diverse group of tasters: white folk from a wide range of tax brackets, all higher than my own, and Arop, a refugee from Sudan, who is our sales rep. from Dr. Pepper.

First let me say, if you ever get a chance to offer a group of Texans unsweetened green tea, do it; it is an experience. I've never heard green tea, or any tea for that matter, compared to Worcestershire sauce until today, nor have I seen a 50-year-old woman stick her tongue out that far as she shook her head in disgust.

Our Contestants:

Adagio Anteadote Pure Green tea. A 500 ml bottle retails for $1.79 in my neck of the words or $2 on their website. The ingredients are simple enough, filtered water, green tea, vitamin c. It does not specify what type of green tea is used, though that is no surprise since it is bottled tea after all. It is labeled Product of China, so I assume it is at least Chinese tea.

My impressions: Its kind of pleasant, does not taste over brewed. As bottle teas go, you could do much, much worse. The problem is that the dominant flavor doesn't taste like tea; I don't know it its too much ascorbic acid or what, but it becomes unpleasant after a while.

Ito En Teas' Tea Pure Green. Retails at 2.29 for 500 ml. The ingredients listed are the same. Ito En is a Japanese company, so likewise I assume that they use Japanese tea.

My impressions: It clearly tastes like Japanese tea. I am not as familiar with tea from Japan yet, but I'd guess they're using bancha. There is a subtle roasted flavor. Over all it is too astringent for me to say that its good, but for a bottled tea, it is probably one of the best ones out there. I do like the boldness of the flavor. Other unsweetened teas that I have tried taste watered down, weak, I suspect to compensate for the lack of sugar. Ito En makes no compromises with this one.

Customer's Vote: Ito En: 16 votes. Adagio: 25 votes.

Unfortunately many of the customers who sampled the product did not seem to grasp the idea of a taste test. They'd grab a cup and walk off, so only about 50-60% voted. What was the most interesting about the experience is seeing how different people's pallets are. Most voted for the tea that was strongest, but they couldn't agree on which one that was.

Adagio won the popular vote, but I say go with Ito En. Theirs taste more like tea should, and provide the uninitiated consumer with a better idea of the true flavor of green tea. For more experienced tea drinkers, you probably already know you get better results when you make your own.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Minagawa Yone

Not tea related, I know, but worthy of note.

Yesterday, Monday, August 13, 2007, Minagawa Yone, who was thought to be the oldest person alive, died at the age of 114. She was born on January 14, 1893 in Akaike, Fukuoka, Japan, which is located in Kyushu. She was the oldest living person in Japan since 2005.

As a student of Japanese history, I wonder at all she would have been exposed to, born during Japan's rise as a global power, while shogun and samurai were part of the not too distant past, and on through two world wars, followed by Japan's metamorphosis into a peaceful, economic force to be reckoned with.

Perhaps it is because I don't have grand parents, but when I think of it like this, I am frequently in awe of really, really old people.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Plan

Here's the plan...

As the number of my readers have modestly increased, I have been updating more, on average once a day. Realistically this is not a pace I am going to be able to maintain. For one work will soon be keeping me busy. I have to organize Fair Trade Month for our stores in Fort Worth and South Lake. After that Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and our bi-annual inventory in January, not to mention all the other events like the New Mexico Hatch Chile Event that will eat my face just as soon as I get back from vacation on Wednesday.

Aside from that I am also concerned that, as much fun as I am having with this blog now, it will become a chore. That and I am concerned that the overall quality will diminish by keeping up with daily posts, something some of you may think has already happened concerning the last post.

From here on out there will be three updates a week, more if I'm feeling skippy. Each post will cover one of the three areas that I seem to focus on.

  • Reviews on tea.
  • Reviews on new and old products that come into my store, sort of a guide to the "specialty" tea that you may find in stores in your area. (If there is nothing that catches my eye any given week, this will be replaced with a second tea review).
  • Reviews on miscellaneous tea related topics. Here you will find posts on tea ware, tea farms, and tea culture, books and what not.
An idea of what's to come:

Reviews on tea: Ali Shan (or why I should stop trying to drink high mountain oolongs or be forced to surrender my gaiwan). I have a shipment of various oolongs coming from Tea Spring, including a bing of Wu Yi yan cha and my first dan cong.

Store related products: I've extended on of our lines of bulk tea, we'll see if there's anything interesting there. Bottle tea blind taste test; we'll see which bottled green tea my customers prefer, Ito En or Adagio.

Miscellaneous: I'll take a look at what makes the Makaibari Estate so neat, and why Okakura Kakuzo's Book of Tea is about so much more than tea.

In the mean time, thank you to all who read this blog. I am having fun, but I know that there are at least two or three other tea blogs out there that you could spend your time reading, so thank you for your time.

Oh, and I "stole" that picture from the talented Sean O'brien. I hope he doesn't sue me, because I don't have any money. But you should check out his site, as he is very talented. Sean of Design.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Puerh Maiden

I am not an experienced or educated puerh drinker. I mostly have a clinical understanding of puerh with no knowledge of the finer details. Bill has been helping me with that, and thanks to his efforts I'm getting better, but I have a long way to go. So, you know, consider yourselves warned.

Puerh Maiden vs 'Nissan' Aged Puerh Maiden:

Six to eight weeks ago I had planned to mail Bill a sample of this tea, because I was curious what he would make of it, and because I had a free sample that I received for a cooking class anyhow. I took it to work with me, planning to stop by the Post Office on my way home. I never made it, and the puerh has lived in my truck ever since.

This last week I got to wondering what two months of Texas summer heat and rain and humidity had done to the puerh. For the mere silliness of it, if for nothing else, it was clear that a taste test was in order.

Puerh Maiden is an Organic, Fair Trade Certified shupu from Xishuanbanna, Yunnan, provided by Rishi. It is hand harvested from ancient tea trees by the young women of the Dai ethnic group, and was traditionally offered as part of their dowry, hence the name.

I used 5 g/150 ml, three infusions each, 5 s rinse, 10 s, 15 s, 20 s.

Maiden Puerh from my cabinet: The dry leaves have an earthy aroma with hints of cocoa and a smidgen of sawdust. The first infusion was good, very smooth, but not a lot of complexity, enjoyable...I wish I knew better words. The liquor of the second infusion was much darker; I was concerned that 15 s was too long, but it was just as pleasant as the first. By the third infusion the chocolate aroma became more pronounced, kind of sweet, like a baked moon pie or smores without the graham crackers.

Maiden Puerh from my truck: The aroma of the leaves is heavier, thicker, reminded me of Swiss Miss, and the leaves are a tad darker. The first infusion was quite a surprise. Several weeks in my truck had not hurt it at all, it aged it. It was smoky with a thinner mouth feel, similar to the aged shupu I've previously tried. The second and third infusions yielded similar results, but the thinness decreased.

I must say the puerh from my truck performed better. Who knew?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Spring 2007 Heirloom Li Shan

Tea: Heirloom Li Shan Oolong
Origin: Li Shan Taiwan
Year: Spring 2007
Vendor: Red Blossom Tea Co.
Price: $230/lb. (Spring 2006)

This is the other oolong that I received from Red Blossom to replace the tung ting. Which was nice, because only the 2006 harvest is available on their website. First let me say that this tea more than any other has taught me why gongfu means skill and practice, emphasis on practice. I used all the leaf I had practicing today, and in the end I only caught a whiff of the tea's true potential.

(Recently I have lamented the lack of educational opportunities for newcomers to tea, and I remember my confusion just six months ago reading other blogs, tung ting, dong ding, ali shan, li shan, wuyi, yiwu, dhp, wtf? So from here on out I will try to provide more information about the tea, tea ware, and customs that I discuss).

Li Shan (Pear Mountain), not to be confused, as I did, with Ali Shan, is part of the Yu Shan (Jade Mountain) range in Taiwan. Li Shan itself is located in Taichung County, and is the highest tea-growing region in Taiwan, between 1800 and 2650 meters. At the highest altitudes. there are only two harvests a year, spring and winter.

This particular tea is crafted by an octogenarian tea master using heirloom techniques. Which I presume is where it gets the name from, and does not necessarily refer to the same thing as heirloom plants. It is oxidized longer but roasted at a lower temperature to give the tea a stronger flavor but still maintain the floral notes.

First round: 5 g/150 ml/200 F/ 5 s rinse, 30 s, 30 s, 60 s.
The aroma is excellent, buttery with warm honey, it yielded a bright golden liquor, and the wet leaves are excellent, huge really. The first infusion was pleasant, floral, a mildly astringent finish, but the second and third the tea just sort of fell flat. Discouraged, I double checked my brewing method, and it was correct; I was using the recommended temperature and time. I decided to use more leaf, instead of measuring out in grams, just eyeball it.

Second round: 1/3 gaiwan of leaves/200 F/ 5 s rinse, 45 s, 25 s, 10 s, 20 s, 30 s.

WOW. It was quite clear that I had messed up and gone too far. I used too much tea, which I could have gotten away with if I started with a much short steeping time. like 5 s. The first two infusions were undrinkable. The third, fourth and fifth were much better, the shorter time being the key. I could taste the finer notes of the tea, but it still suffered from my previous mistakes.

This was a definitely a learning experience. I wish I had more of the li shan so I could try again, but I will apply what I just learned on some ali shan gao shan I have. We'll see how I do in a day or two.

Sources: Tea From Taiwan; Wikipedia

Sencha, Ice Infusion: a Brief Update

I gave it a second go today, leaving it outside in the sun while I had far too much fun mowing the yard (I think, as a good husband, I should share some of it with my wife). I used the same parameters as I did originally, 5 g of sencha with 5-6 ice cubes, let sit till ice melts.

I don't know what went wrong. The Summer heat did indeed speed up the melting, but this time instead of intense flavor and sweetness, it was bitter and grassy, and the liquor was quite cloudy. Oh well, I suppose it will take some time before I get it right.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Sencha, Ice Infusion

Sencha infused with ice. I had seen striking pictures of this before on a Japanese site, and earlier this week I received a newsletter from In Pursuit of Tea about this. Temperatures here in Texas have reached triple digits, so it was clearly time to give this a try.

According to IPoT tealeaves will only release their tannins in water 140 F or above, so without having to worry about the brew becoming overly astringent or just plain crap, you get an intensely flavored infusion. That's the idea at least. I used a Chinese sencha from Zhejiang that I purchased from Rishi, its relatively inexpensive price being my primary motivation.

First Attempt: Following the guidelines in the newsletter, I measured out about 5 g of leaf, added 5-6 ice cubes, and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Time is the big drawback to this method. It took at 30-45 minutes to get 2 oz of tea, but it tasted good. Intense ins correct, very bold, very sweet, and the aroma was like green tea ice cream. Unfortunately two sips and you're done.

Second Attempt: This time I used the directions I first saw here. I measured out 8 g of leaf, added enough warm water to soak the leaves, followed by 4-5 ice cubes, then I filled the 10 oz pot with cold water, steeping for 5 minutes. The results were good, but the flavor was nowhere near as concentrated. It reminded me of Ito En's pure green bottled tea.

Third Attempt: This was sort of a cross between the previous two methods. I used 5 g of leaf, 5 ice cubes, then filled the pot with cold water, letting it steep for 25 minutes. This was closer to the first attempt, stronger, but it still fell short, not as sweet.

I'm sure I'll play around with this some more. I'd like to find a way that repeats the results of my original attempt, without having to wait for ice cubes to melt. Perhaps I'll leave it out on my porch next time. That Texas sun should make short work of those ice cubes.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


Went to the Dentist today. Had a tooth pulled, so no tea today. Vicodin. Wonderful, wonderful stuff. My day is all shiny now.

In tea related news, it has been confirmed that Roy Fong from the Imperial Tea Court is coming out to my store in October. More on that later.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Fujian Clan Houses

My passion for tea has always been a marriage of my mutual interests in culture and history. As much as I enjoy the taste of tea, in the end I think it is the intellectual, not culinary, experience that I crave more. After my last post in which I mentioned how many of the teas I enjoy come from Fujian, I thought I would do some research and write about it. Instead I found these and fell in love.

*No two sources I found on the Internet offered information that meshed as well as I would like, or cited sources that looked legit (I don't trust Wikipedia as much as I used to), so I'm going to try to stick to the details that they agree on. I apologize if any of the information turns out to be incorrect.

These clan homes, also called Tu Lou (earth building) are large, some are 90 meters in diameter, round or rectangular buildings that can house as many as four generations. The architecture is centuries old and attributed to the Hakka (guest family), a sub group of the Han. They are found in the southern and western parts of Fujian, as well as Guangdong. They include an open courtyard at its center that can house out door kitchens, stables, guest houses, and an ancestral shrine, with the outer walls housing the numerous rooms.

Perhaps it is because I grew up with a small family that has since evaporated, but I find the idea of clan houses enchanting. In a land as vast as China, with so many people, to have a clearly defined place where you belong, where you fit, must be grand. Perhaps I am overly romanticizing them, and children dreamed of growing up and getting away, but I'd like to think I'm not.

For some reason these remind me of Kung Fu Hustle.

Unfortunately, Tu Lou, while still occupied by families, are no longer being built. A stronger government in China decreases the involvement of clans in politics, and makes fortified structures like this unnecessary and/or illegal. Also more people are leaving the rural areas to seek employment in the cities. As a part of this, clans are breaking up into single family homes, and the Tu Lou eventually fall into disrepair. I am sad to see them go and to think that they wont always be a part of China, but I think this site said it well:
"China is not and should not be an open-air museum. Understandably, the country’s development proceeds without much regard for the conservation of archaic social structures and the corresponding architecture. The tulou are no longer built, and in a few generations they will have disappeared entirely, only to be found in literature."
China is criticised frequently, and though I do not agree with many of the practices of its government, I remain ever respectful it, of its age, its culture, of its numerous accomplishments, past and yet to come.

I am glad that my pursuit of tea has led me to another discovery that I would otherwise have remained ignorant.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Two For One

I've been sick all week; some of you on TeaChat got to hear some of the disgusting details, so I called in sick to work and spent the day in bed. A perfect opportunity to drink lots of tea and get through the stack of Korean movies I've been meaning to watch, but I slept for about thirteen hours instead. The day wasn't a total waste. I did watch one of the movies and drink a little tea.

Tea: Xian Tao
Origin: Fujian, China
Year: ?
Vendor: Rishi
Price: $50/lb.

So many of the teas that I like seem to come from Fujian, and so many different varieties at that. This tea is harvested from the Fuding Da Bai bush varietal, the same bushes that give us traditional white teas like bai hao yin zhen and bai mu dan. I think Adagio's white monkey may be the same tea as this. They taste the same, and the wet leaves have the same appearance, and they both come from Fujian, but when I asked them for more information about it, they didn't know anything.

This has been one of my favorite green teas, though the several months spent in my cabinet hasn't helped it any. Its a little stale. I used one piece (about 5.5 g) for 8 oz of spring water at 180 F for 4 minutes. The liquor is a rather pale green. A little stale, but I still get strong notes of melon, kind of sweet, fruity, not grassy or vegetal at all. This is a good green tea for people who don't care for green tea.

I usually get 3-4 infusions, but it was clearly past its prime, so I chunked it and what I had left in the container. When its fresh, this tea is fantastic. Today I had to settle for good and soothing.

Tae Guk Gi

A 2004 film, written and directed by Je-gyu Kang, about two brothers who were drafted into the South Korean army at the beginning of the Korean War. Its heart-breaking to watch these two try to survive and take care of each other in a war that left so many dead and has never been resolved. Though it is frequently in danger of becoming a Korean Saving Private Ryan, and the twist at the end detracts from the film as a whole, it was well worth the 2.5 hours. The direction and cinematography is superb, as is the choreography. The action sequences are fantastic. The score leaves something to be desired, though. If you like foreign films, I recommend this one.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

New Vithanakande Estate Ceylon OP

At some point last year, I decided that I had to have some of this, but soon after I realized that there are better, more delightful things to drink than black tea, particularly Indian black tea. So this has been sitting at the back of my cabinet ever since. I figured I'd dust if off and give it another try.

Tea: Ceylon OP
Origin: Sri Lanka, New Vithanakande
Year: 2005
Vendor: Silver Tips Tea Room
Price: $34/lb.

When I opened the tin the aroma was still quite strong and pleasant, distinctly akin to tobacco, and it brought with it memories of growing up in my father's wood shop. I always enjoyed the smell of his cigarette packs, sweet and rich and dark.

I used 3 g of leaf for 8 oz of spring water and steeped it in boiling water for 4 minutes. It was smooth, mildly astringent and just sort of tasted like tea. Like so many other teas from India that I have tried, there just wasn't anything that stood out about. A slice of lemon would probably have made it enjoyable.

I give this tea a 3. There isn't anything wrong with it, except that there isn't anything good about it. It will probably spend several more months in the back of my cabinet.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Steaz Energy Drink

"Organic fuel for the mind, body and soul." Yep...this is going to be a fluff review.

We got this in not that long ago. I didn't pay much attention to it at the time, just another new item, but tonight as I was leaving I noticed a shiny Fair Trade Certified logo. My interest was piqued, a FTC energy drink? So I dropped a can in the wine-chiller and gave it a go.

The ingredient list is a cornucopia of buzz words, acai, yerba mate, green tea, enough to make any fan of Oprah all giddy in the britches. The price isn't that bad, $1.99 for a 12 oz can, and it tastes much better than a Red Bull. Can't say I'll be craving in any time soon, but the flavor was pleasant enough. None of the ingredients stood out; they just sort of meshed together without complimenting one another, but have you tasted a Red Bull?

Its a decent enough beverage, but energy drinks have never been my thing. The thing that excites me are the ingredients, FTC Ceylon green, Guayaki yerba mate, part of Fair Trade Federation . It please me to see Fair Trade products expand to every day items. I'm waiting for a Fair Trade Snickers bar. Waiting, but not holding my breath.

Oh yeah, here's a link: Steaz

Samashi by Shimizu

I am looking for this yakishime samashi from Tokoname, Japan made by Shimizu Genji. If you've seen this on a website somewhere, or know where I can purchase one, please let me know. I've found a place that sells whole sale, but they have not responded to my emails. Sure would like to get my hands on one. Thank you.